Arrived back home yesterday morning, of course usual mess trying to buy tickets (office was closed even though trains were running). Got back at around 7:30AM (strange experience on train with someone who obviously was 'high' offering to help me with my bags).


Decided I needed some home cooked food, so picked up joint of ham and some vegetables from local shops. One thing I like about the new house is having some of the best butchers and fruit/veg shops in Cambridge. Made some soup (Scottish recipe) and some cooked meet for early lunch. By 2:30PM I was whacked and decided to get a few hours sleep. Next thing I know it's 1AM and I'm wide awake. Melatonin doesn't seem to have worked so I've just decided to catch up on post, online stuff, etc.

I'm feeling pretty down right now. I don't know whether it's just the change of scene, things at work, or jetlag. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow.

Lots of pics to post from travels. Really wanted to post as I moved from city-city, but so busy (4hrs sleep each night) and also blogger being blocked in China didn't help the last week.

In Shanghai now, arrived late last night from HK. I always forget how polluted Shanghai is, so when I arrived late night (foggy) I was surprised at just how bad things were. On a positive note, managed to win the the bet with the person I was travelling with that we be in our repsective beds by midnight (made it by 2mins).

The past 2 weeks have been pretty manic with lots of travel, late dinners, meetings, conversations. I'm presenting late this afternoon, the slides are done, so taking this time to catch up with things now - such a backlog of e-mail and things on my to-do list. I've also quite a few funny pics and stories so I'll blog more later (Blogger doesn't connect in my hotel and I can't be bothered setting up VPN on the Mac so they'll have to wait until a little later).

Right, back to the e-mail...

One of the big things I really like about travelling in Asia is the quality of service you (usually) get, particularly in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan- China hasn't really got used to the service thing yet. When you travel a significant amount and spend a lot of life on flights and in hotels you really do appreciate good quality service, more specifically the little touches.

It's amazing, for example, the difference an Asian cabin staff makes compared to a European one. Little things, like a smile or passing remark (Virgin cabin staff post-security after landing talking to me and telling me to have a nice trip) really do make a difference. I've boarded flights before tired and in a bad mood due to an earlier event and come off a 12hr flight feeling relaxed and in a good mood just because of tiny little things. Other examples are in HK being brought a choice of reading material when they notice you are alone and have nothing to read.

A couple of things that happened today are examples of how good it gets:

Cathay Pacific Flight (Seoul to Taipei)
Having breakfast (excellent as usual). I must admit I was a little surprised to be passed this at 9:25AM (or 8:25AM at my destination):


I almost felt I had to have a glass just for the sake of it ! Anyways, digressing. I had a croissant with a side of honey (very nice combination, must try again). Later on, the attendant came round again and offered bread, I picked another croissant. After a couple of minutes she comes back with a side of honey. That just would never happen in Europe, you'd be asked for bread choice and that's what you'd get - they'd never bother to look at your sides and actually replenish them automatically without even asking.

Taiwan Post Office
So I decided that my bag was too full (and slightly overweight) so decided to offload some stuff at the post office and send back. Of course there's the added requirement of the likelihood of making purchases in HK requiring space in my case (I know myself all too well). Arrived at the Taipei office and enquired about sending some stuff, turns out the post office was very nearby. Discussion goes as follows:

Craig: Okay, so we need to send this stuff. Do you have a box ?
Office Manager: Why do you need a box ?
Craig: To post it in
OM: They will supply a box
Craig: Okay, what about pen and sellotape ?
OM: The service is pretty good in Taiwan

So we arrive at the Post Office. The guy comes over and starts helping us, provides a box, packs my stuff (way better than I would of course do), sellotapes up the box. Job done. I did feel a little guilty being the 'foreigner in the queue' keeping everyone behind me. However, superb service.

As I'm waiting, I start to look around and spot something (apologies for poor image, but taken on Blackberry and very quickly to avoid looking stupid):

Craig: What are the glasses for, do they sell them ?
OM: For old people
Craig: ??
OM: Well they can't see well and use the post office often, so there are glasses to help them

Does it really get any better than that ?

Distaste, in an otherwise very tasteful country
I must admit I've never found anything in Japan that I'd describe as 'tacky'. Yes, lots of flashing lights and noises, but it is actually quite relaxing. Therefore, imagine my shock when I spotted this at the the duty free:

video

WTF ? Yes, it's a plastic dog that you plug into your USB port and it pretends it is trying to have 'relations' with your computer ! Why ? I particularly like the slogan "USB meets love".

What always surprises me about this stuff is that there are actually factories in the world that manufacture stuff like this (given the setup and design costs).

Busy trip
I spent much of the days in Japan getting about 5hrs sleep each night. Socialising with people from work is commonplace (in particular with people I know as I used to visit very often). I did get the opportunity to chat with people and also experience some great food so I'm not complaining. However, at lunchtime today in Korea a colleague did remark "you look very tired", I guess the trip (plus things on my mind) takes its toll.

Had a great day Saturday, excellent steak for lunch in a really nice environment with good company. Finally went to Akihabara for a wander (lucky me didn't buy anything and didn't really get excited about the prospect of a 'Maid Cafe'). Saturday night had a walk in the park (Japanese parks don't close at dusk), wandered round Shibuya just soaking up the energy. These trips often give me time to reflect on things (which isn't always a good thing) so being in a hectic environment is good for me at times lack that.

Reminder to self- next time use local airports, especially when there is no space left in Business on the international airport flights !

Gadget Inventory
Rest assured wallet was hit ! I've decided to create a full inventory at the end of the trip (if only to punish myself on how much I spent). So far it's been cables, computers, stationary, just have to avoid HMV in HK and electronics stores in Taiwan and I should be good.

Arrived in Seoul (more on that later) yesterday. However, upon arriving in my room tonight, spotted this in the corner (added):

Are they trying to tell me that I need to exercise ?!


Last week spent in Japan (in Korea now but been super busy). Had an excellent time- best trip for a long time. I guess in part it was delivering a talk that was already prepared (unlike the usual where I'd be writing the slides on the flight over) and also got a chance to have good dinner most evenings and walk around for a change. Spent some time with great people, made me realise even ore that I miss going to Japan (as I don't get the opportunity as much as I used to).

Food Inventory
I love the way food is cooked in Japan, attention to detail is of course key (and ingredients are very good quality). The negative thing for me (but positive of course for everyone else) is that I don't eat seafood of any more- in short if it lives in water I don't eat it - if it comes from the land I eat it (probably too much ).

Lots of beef consumed, including excellent dinner in Yokohama at famous 'port' restaurant, shabu-shabu, and best of all excellent steak on Saturday. Also tried raw liver for the first time- it tastes much better than cooked liver !

Travel
What can I say - a total dream traveling. What I love about Japan is that it's the little things that they pay attention to that makes me smile given the attention to detail.

Some examples...

In the UK on a train your luggage would be sliding all over the place. In Japan, the luggage racks have barriers and also locks- such a simple concept but makes such a difference ! Here's my 'case nicely tucked away.


Proper lines for walkways catching the train - no messing around trying to figure out where the train is going to alight:


I think this user guide at the back of seats really typifies the level of detail people go to- look at the baby room !

Now onto the actual train itself. I'm sure the barrier sliding along is perfectly in synch with the training arriving. Even the train arrival is ultra slick:

video

Contrast this to a train I recently was on going to Sheffield in the UK (where the only suits on that train were 'shell suits').


Actually I remember the first time I ever had to travel on one of these single carriage trains form Ipswich to Cambridge. I asked one of the staff at the platform when the other part of the train was going to come, only to be told "this is it sir" !

Of course I find maps and the train stations totally bewildering:


It feels like I just got back and I'm on the road again. I'm writing this on the train to the airport, this time for a 3 week trip in Asia on a seminar track.

Here's where I'll be going:

* Tokyo (spending weekend there, gadget inventory expected to be high)
* Seoul
* Taipei / Hsinchu
* Hong Kong (stopover at weekend)
* Beijing
* Shanghai
* Shenzen

The good news is that for all the places, save for Tokyo, I have a set of common (own) slides to present (just a few tweaks). For Tokyo I was hurriedly capturing (using Snapz Pro X on the Mac - great app) the video of what I had to talk about (from a talk in San Jose a few weeks earlier). It just finished post-processing (thankfully) about 2 minutes before I left home ! Thankfully I have a 12hr flight to rehearse the presentation in time for a rehearsal tomorrow.

I'm really looking forward to this trip. Seminar trips are always good (though tiring) as you get to travel with a similar group of people for much of the journey. I'm sure I will come back in a really good (positive) mood like I always do, likely with the wallet a little lighter due to gadget purchases (HK always dangerous).






Today's travel has been a misery, but thankfully I knew that in advance so minimised the stress with planning. I have the option to have a car take me to the airport, but I hate that as it's inefficient, uncomfortable, and wastes time (can't use computer easily and always stuck in traffic). Public transport is a much better option- when it runs that is !

No it's not leaves on the line (as they have a new Leaves on the Line timetable). First Capital Connect drivers have gotten religious fever and decided that Sunday is a day of rest. Therefore there are no trains into Kings Cross from Cambridge today. And no, I really do not want to take a bus from Cambridge to London. If I wanted to take a bus, I'd go to the bus station.

At the station there were of course the usual 6+ uniformed staff standing around checking tickets and not doing very much. I reckon my ticket price is at least £1 higher to pay for these people adding absolutely no value whatsoever to the travel experience. What's the point of having an automated ticket barrier, but having 3 people standing beside it ? I guess it's a carry over from the former BR days. Shame none of the staff were multi-lingual since there was the usual raft of visitors looking totally confused at why a G8 country can't run a train service on a Sunday. In short, total and utter joke.

What irritates me the most is that there is a recession on, but people providing a service to the public seem to think they are immune to it. So far, it's trains and post, I predict it's going to get worse over the next 6 months. Right, I'll stop as I sound like a Daily Mail editor.

Usual carnage on the London Underground due to Engineering works. Think I'll just take a taxi from Liverpool Street to Paddington as I can't be bothered with a change on the tube (no doubt with a very long set of stairs, stuck behind a group of tortoises all walking in parallel).

Sorry for the lag of blogging recently. I've been so busy with the house move and travel for work (about to go another 3 weeks on the road again). Not helped by still not having Broadband at home (thanks to the mess that is BT). However, the good news is that there's been plenty of blog fodder !

Anyways, our first instalment is something that I just had to take a picture of when I visited the local Cambridge garden centre. I think it summarises the poor taste Cambridge people have:

Yes, forget elves, gnomes, even Chinese statues. Trump your neighbour by having your own Meerkat's in your front garden.